Renters Together MHK, a local housing advocacy group, met Tuesday evening at the First Congregational Church on Poyntz Avenue to discuss strategies on how to make rental properties safer and more affordable for tenants in Manhattan.
Kansas State students, members of the K-State Student Governing Association and Manhattan community members were in attendance at the meeting as part of Renters Together.
Jonathan Cole, senior in mechanical engineering, led the meeting and encouraged everyone to voice their views.
The meeting began with a debrief led by Rachel Shivers, community member and property renter in Manhattan, concerning events from the past two weeks. Shivers focused on a City Commission meeting and the town hall hosted by SGA on March 28.
“One of the main focuses right now is meeting with city commissioners and [working] on getting a rental inspections policy in place,” Shivers said. “It was two weeks ago tonight where there was a City Commission meeting where a proposal was brought forth to implement an inspections policy.”
Shivers said there were many sources of support for the policy, including community members, renters and K-State students.
All members agreed the presentation at the meeting was effective and that city commissioners were interested in the issue at hand, that being renters’ rights and implementing a rental inspection policy. Shivers said the current system is insufficient.
“We should continue to work toward fixing the issues with rental housing,” Shivers said.
Cole added that Renters Together needs three or more commissioners on its side to make a difference.
Brandon Irwin, local renter and community organizer with the Flint Hills Wellness Coalition, said Renters Together most likely has two commitments. City commissioners Jarred McKeen and Linda Morris seemed to side with the group during the last meeting, with two more seemingly on the way: Mayor Mike Dodson and mayor pro tempore Usha Reddi.
“We seemed to get two others,” Irwin said. “Mike and Usha.”
Irwin presented a diagram that depicted the influence of groups advocating for renters’ rights and the amounts of influence they have. On the sheet, landlords are depicted as having a lot of influence with city commissioners about rental policies, while Renters Together, students and other advocates typically have less power.
However, there is a chance that Renters Together made an impact at the last City Commission meeting. Shivers said Reddi made a statement at the meeting that she thinks incremental changes are the main way to change the policies currently in place.
Irwin said Reddi seems to be straddling the line when it comes to rental issues.
“There are two options for her indecisiveness,” Irwin said. “Reddi wants the program to be stronger, but also thinks it might hurt her candidacy. That isn’t compatible with one another.”
Corbin Sedlacek, junior in management and accounting, added that some renters and city leaders might put the pressure on K-State to help improve housing options for students.
“Mike seems to want K-State to step up and improve the education component of things to help students,” Sedlacek said.
Another event hosted by Renters Together was an SGA town hall on March 28. Three city commissioners — Reddi, Morris and McKee — spoke to students about their concerns related to rental properties and inspections.
“We hosted a town hall with city commissioners, and it was a good opportunity for SGA,” said Hayley Spellman, student senator and senior in political science and communication studies. “We had nearly 100 people attend. It was good for them to learn about these issues and be heard.”
Shivers added that she was also pleased by the town hall.
“I was proud of the Renters Together members in general for this event,” Shivers said.
After discussing the events of the past week, Renters Together then worked on setting goals and preparing their next steps.
The group settled on a general long term goal of achieving safe and affordable housing that is renter-friendly, along with a short term goal of convincing commissioners that this is a large issue in the community that needs focused on.
Renters Together also listed allies with their group, such as SGA and the K-State administration.
“[The administration’s] focus is on strategic enrollment, which is whatever gets more students in easier and quicker,” Sedlacek said.
Renters Together was concerned that K-State’s Housing and Dining Services would take precedent with the university over renters’ rights.
Irwin said for the campaign to gain more leverage in the community, it would need strategic messages.
Cole related this to food insecurity among college students. When students are faced with eating or paying rent, they typically choose to pay rent and worry about meals later.
“Rent eats first,” Cole said.
Renters Together will meet again at 5:30 p.m. on April 23 at the First Congregational Church to discuss further strategies.